Interview with Aslan Yavuz Şir, Senior Specialist at Center for Eurasian Studies
Historyoftruth.com: Armenian diaspora continues its efforts within the frames of 100th anniversary of 1915 incidents. Do you expect any large scale attempt till the end of 2015?
Aslan Yavuz Şir: I think using the term Armenian “Diasporas” is more suitable. There is no homogenous and monolithic diaspora of Armenians They have a common cause, that is, an enmity towards Turks and Turkey, and worked to deploy a gradual strategy for the 100th anniversary of 1915. Any attempt on their behalf is constructed firstly on a discursive level (on the academic and non-academic spheres) which later evolves into political and legal attempts in the international arena. We have already experienced most of what we expected for 2015 from the Armenian Diasporas and the Armenian state, the result of which was in fact a failure with regard to their expectations from the 100th anniversary.
Historyoftruth.com: In what extent Armenian diaspora achieved its goals for 100th year of 1915 incidents?
Aslan Yavuz Şir: We can make a general summary of the Armenian goals regarding the 100th Anniversary of 1915 events. First, Armenian Diasporas hoped that a majority of international parliaments would adopt resolutions or decisions recognition of 1915 events as genocide. Second, they expected the reversal of a major, very important court decision before the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), i.e. Perincek v Switzerland case, which dealt with the right of freedom of expression Vis-a-Vis the criminalization of the rejection of Armenian genocide allegations. Third, Armenian diasporas expected an unofficial but comprehensive acknowledgment of the genocide allegations by the Turkish civil society, not particularly the NGOs. All these efforts failed.
Despite the high expectations, only a small number of parliaments passed decisions recognizing the 1915 events as genocide. In countries like Austria, Australia, Luxembourg and Germany where the parliaments either took decisions regarding these allegations or brought resolutions before the parliament, governments challenged these attempts by pointing out to the fact that these are of political nature and do not serve the future reconciliation attempts between the Turkish and Armenian peoples.
The ECHR Grand Chamber's judgment on the Perincek v. Switzerland case is a crushing defeat for radical Armenians. Grand Chamber held that Switzerland has violated Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) regarding freedom of expression and therefore unjustly restricted Doğu Perincek's freedom of expression. This judgement is final and it constitutes an important case-law. To begin with, it establishes a strong basis for how in the future European countries should interpret the right to freedom of expression and the balance between that right and its exceptions. In fact, this judgment is also a blow to Armenian diaspora attempts to suppress the right to freedom of speech in a number of countries (i.e. through primary and secondary education with a one-sided and subjective curriculum, forcing students, even expelling them from schools if they do not compel; politically persecuting academics, politicians, scholars, i.e. anybody who do not agree with the Armenian side of the story; and finally charge and convict people only because they expressed their views on historical debates) which were captive to their political threats for a long time now. This judgment comes as a redemption for those countries such as Switzerland, if from now on they apologize to Turks for restricting their freedom of expression and silencing them for all these years.
Lastly, for the last couple of years, Armenians were very much hopeful that a civil society based support towards the recognition of 1915 events as genocide in Turkey would emerge. This proved to be wishful thinking, not because of the fact that the support that the Armenians were seeking in Turkish society was of a very limited and ideological nature, but mainly because the Armenian strategy to force Turkey and the Turkish people became counterproductive. People became more mindful of the historical debates about the past of Turkish-Armenian relations, and more aware of their own oral and written history about the past with the Armenians.
Historyoftruth.com: Turkish American community was much more organized this year on April 24th against Armenian propaganda. Are you hopeful for more in following years?
Aslan Yavuz Şir: Turkish people are better informed, more aware, and organized now more than ever about the Armenian radical narrative whether in Turkey, America or elsewhere. Of course Turkish-American community has first-hand experience with the Armenian radical narrative. This puts them in a unique position; their awareness and reaction against this radical Armenian propaganda is not a recent phenomenon. In a sense, they have always been knowledgeable about their homeland’s history and have always been vigilant against this propaganda. They are a valuable and well-integrated part of the American society, and the more they have the means to realize themselves as Turkish-Americans, the better organized they will become in the face of any propaganda against Turkey and the Turkish people. Turkish-American’s growing organizational capacity has started to make Armenian-American associations uncomfortable, because they are coming to realize that they will not be able to carry out their propaganda as easily as in the past.
Historyoftruth.com: Should we expect any changes in Turkey Armenia relations following the elections in Turkey?
Aslan Yavuz Şir: Turkey has been trying to deal with a lot of problems for some time now. The threat from Northern Iraq, the worsening situation in Syria, the refugee problem, IS threat, relations with Iran are some of those issues. Therefore, relations with Armenia is not high on the agenda for now. This does not mean Turkey does not care about establishing and improving relations with Armenia. On the contrary, Turkey has always pursued peaceful relations with Armenia. Turkey was among the first countries to recognize Armenia; attempts to initiate relations with Armenia beginning with the football diplomacy and which evolved into the Protocols process were all unilateral efforts by Turkey. Therefore it would be a mistake to relate the possibility of a change to the elections in Turkey. The ball is in Armenia’s court now, and it has been for a long time now.
Historyoftruth.com: Would a change in Armenian government have an impact on bilateral relations?
Aslan Yavuz Şir: From the beginning of its independence, Armenian policy towards Turkey has gradually changed. Today, under Sargsyan’s presidency and for the first time, Armenia openly demands the recognition of the 1915 events as genocide by Turkey. Most of the efforts by Armenia to that end in the past did not seek to directly ask Turkey to recognize 1915 events as genocide, but rather force Turkey via parliament resolutions and political decisions by third countries. Even during Sargsyan’s presidency there has been a sharp change in Armenian policy, from a policy of rapprochement with Turkey until 2012, to another that totally ignored/abandoned such a possibility in bilateral relations. 2015 played a significant role to that effect. If Turkish-Armenian rapprochement is desirable, in the end it should be Armenia, and not Turkey to take the first step, especially after 2015.
Historyoftruth.com: What is the role of think-tank organizations in Turkish Armenian relations?
Aslan Yavuz Şir: We have to make a distinction between the efforts of the think-tanks, such as AVIM, and the NGOs. Together we can call them Track Two efforts. Enormous resources have been spent and countless projects were concluded in terms of Track Two initiatives to promote normalization/reconciliation process in Turkish-Armenian relations. These efforts evolved into a point where civil society (i.e. NGO) engagement became an end in itself, without any hope or the will to affect or connect with the Track One that covers the engagements at the official level. Think-tanks, such as AVIM, are more interested in producing feasible and employable political recommendations with regard to the development of bilateral political relations. Think-tanks do not prioritize youth or intercultural education projects as NGOs, but rather practical and pragmatic policy recommendations, high level Track Two engagements between experts, academics and other interested parties. Still, we don’t believe these two categories mutually exclusive, but we believe that without political will at the highest level, civil society efforts are in vain, slowly and inefficiently becoming an industry in itself. Therefore as a think-tank AVIM prioritizes the establishment of high level expert dialogue that might help advise and trigger Track One.
Historyoftruth.com: There are media reports that terrorist organization PKK used Armenian soil while attacking Turkish security forces in few incidents. May Turkey carry out operations against PKK in Armenia as well as Northern Iraq and Northern Syria?
Aslan Yavuz Şir: From time to time you will find news that indicate PKK’s alleged use of Armenian territories. But I find it very hypothetical to assume even the possibility of a Turkish cross border operation against PKK in Armenia, without hard evidence. After all Armenia could never take such a huge risk by deliberately or unknowingly allow PKK operations from its own territory and aggravate Turkey.
Historyoftruth.com: What is your view about PKK being an Armenian project and being the successor of ASALA?
Aslan Yavuz Şir: Turkey had been suffering from terrorism for a long time now. PKK and ASALA are both terrorist organizations that in the past and today continue to cost innocent lives. The only connection that we need to emphasize between these two terrorist organizations is that they have been financially, ideologically and politically supported by the third countries both in the past and today. Terrorism has no ethnicity or religion.
Historyoftruth.com: Do you expect any changes in Nagorno Karabakh conflict in near future?
Aslan Yavuz Şir: There are two very critical developments about the future of Nagorno Karabakh. First, the ECHR Grand Chamber declared its judgement on Chiragov and Others v. Armenia, a case brought before the Court by four Azerbaijani nationals who claimed that they were forced to leave the district of Lachin in Azerbaijan by Armenian forces during the Karabakh war and since then they have been unable to return to their homes and have been denied control over their properties. ECHR ruled that the defendant of the case is the Republic of Armenia, not the de facto entity in Nagorno-Karabakh, and therefore it is the Republic of Armenia, not “NKR” which exercises effective control over Nagorno-Karabakh and the surrounding territories, including the district of Lachin. This is a major blow to the Armenian attempt at distancing itself from the NKR and its ongoing occupation of Azerbaijan territories.
A second development was the announcement of a recent draft resolution by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE). The text of the resolution is the harshest critique and condemnation of the ongoing Armenian occupation in Nagorno Karabakh. Parliamentary Assembly asserts that despite OSCE and UNSC resolutions “considerable parts of the territory of Azerbaijan are still occupied by Armenian forces and separatist forces are still in control of the Nagorno-Karabakh region”. PACE resolution also states that the current status quo is unacceptable and is in favor of the occupier Armenia, and therefore Armenia should immediately withdraw of all military equipment and cease all military activity, demilitarize the line of contact between two sides, and most importantly
“the withdrawal of Armenian armed forces and other irregular armed forces from Nagorno-Karabakh and the other occupied territories of Azerbaijan, the establishment of full sovereignty of Azerbaijan in these territories and the convening of the plenary meeting of the Minsk Group to establish an interim status for Nagorno-Karabakh guaranteeing security and internal self-governance, with an agreed corridor linking Armenia to Nagorno-Karabakh, and other confidence building measures including an access corridor to Nakhchivan”
These two recent developments not only reaffirmed Armenia’s continued violation of international law and regional peace, but also for the first time underlined that the international community will not tolerate this violation anymore. As the PACE resolution also states, this is partly due to the inability of the Minsk Group co-chairs to bring about a peaceful settlement, the only function of which has been to maintain the status quo in favor of Armenia. Turkey has always pursued a peaceful resolution of the Karabakh problem, and in fact tried to draw attention of the international community to Armenia’s continued ignorance of international law and UN Security Council resolutions. Turkey tried to illustrate an objective picture of the responsible actors, the essence of the problem and the ways through which the problem could be resolved for some time now. Although I don’t see any possibility of an immediate change in Nagorno Karabakh conflict, there are now clear signs that indicate unprecedented legal and international attention towards the problem and a better understanding on the part of international community of the causes and implications of an ongoing security issue in the region.
Historyoftruth.com: Do you consider Russia as the key country for resolution of Karabakh conflict? What may change Russia's stance over Karabakh?
Aslan Yavuz Şir: I do not think Russia or any other single country can be the only key to resolution of Karabakh conflict. With no doubt, Russian policy in the South Caucasus is of high importance with detrimental consequences for the countries in the region. Any shift in Russian policy towards Karabakh can immensely affect the status quo in Karabakh. But there are other factors in the region, including Russia’s occupation of Crimea, Western sanctions against Russia, the situation in Syria, lifting of sanctions over Iran, Armenia’s dependence on Russia, rapprochement with the West, and therefore makes any possible resolution attempts frivolous. This dependence gave Russia the ability to abate Armenia’s relations with the EU and confine Armenia back into Russia’s orbit. Therefore now it does not seem possible to leverage Armenia for a gradual resolution of the Karabakh issue. Armenia’s stance during the Protocols process has also eliminated the probability of the opening of borders with Turkey and therefore decrease Armenia’s dependence on Russia. In both cases, Armenia made wrong choices. Today, increasingly isolated, Armenia now looks up to Iran, which after the lifting of international sanctions, will look for alternative routes of trade in the region. Even if that is the case, Iran will not favor Armenia at the expense of Russia, and moreover, Iran cannot possibly become an alternative for Russia in Armenia. For all these reasons resolution of the Karabakh conflict in medium or long term seems improbable.
Historyoftruth.com: Can the Western World somehow take Armenia out of Russian influence?
Aslan Yavuz Şir: It is not Western community’s responsibility to liberate Armenia out of Russian influence, and certainly not despite Armenia’s choice to remain under Russian mandate. Moreover, Armenia had already wasted several opportunities of closer engagement with the West. Despite Armenia’s renewed attempts to renew ties with the EU, Armenia’s choice to become a member of EEU have been very disappointing. I agree that the Russian pressure on Armenia to become a member of the EEU is an important and undeniable factor. But Western attempts to reach out to Armenia has to find at least a little sensible requital on the other side of the table.
Historyoftruth.com: Pope Francis's remarks about 1915 incidents caused reactions in Muslim world. What is your observation about the religious dimension of Armenian issue?
Aslan Yavuz Şir: The remarks made by Pope Francis of the Roman Catholic Church on 12 April were ill-informed and unfortunate on many counts. Pope’s remarks were political and had no relevance with the Papacy as a religious figure. They were political primarily because the Pope only acknowledged the sufferings of the Armenian victims of a world war, on the grounds that they were Christians, and as if the Roman Catholic Church is representative of all the Christians, including Armenians most of whom belong to the Armenian Apostolic Church. I think there is a trend within the circles who espouse a genocide narrative to fortify this narrative with religion, because they know that legally as well as historically they are starting to lose ground to counter arguments. That is why for example both the Pope and the Armenian community has started increasingly refer to Armenians who lost their lives in 1915 as “martyrs”. However, the martyrdom as a concept refer to those who die for a religious cause, which is not congruent with the complex chain and circumstances of events of the 1915. I believe the pope is trying to use such arguments to boost the image of the Roman Catholic Church as the representative of all Christian interests, which makes his recent speeches political rather than religious or ethical in character. To demonstrate just how political and distant from the religious and ethical considerations Pope Francis’ behaving one only has to look at his failure to acknowledge the fact that what happened in Srebrenica against Muslims, not more than 20 years ago, constitutes a genocide which has been affirmed by a competent international tribunal as stipulated by the 1948 Genocide Convention.
Historyoftruth.com: Are there any ongoing lawsuits in US courts against Turkey filed by Armenian diaspora?
Aslan Yavuz Şir: There were three cases that were brought before the California courts, namely Bakalian, Davoyan and Manookian cases that were filed against Turkey. The legal case that lays the foundation for the legal claims in these lawsuits were gradually built in the Californian civil code to pave the way for possible litigation against Turkey in the US courts. American legal system has exceptions to the principle of foreign sovereign immunity, i.e. third countries have limited sovereign immunity before the US courts. Armenians used this carefully built tender spots to use the American legal system against Turkey. The aim was clearly to force the American courts to become a forum for a discussion of 1915 events. However this strategy failed when the American Supreme Court ruled that the California legislation contradicts the foreign policy making power of the President of the United States and revoked the related articles of the Californian Civil Code.
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